Kansas City and Johnson County share key success stories

03/26/2014 4:19 PM

03/26/2014 6:59 PM

The word “homicide” didn’t cross the lips of Johnson County Commission Chairman Ed Eilert in his State of the County address on Tuesday at The Ritz Charles ballroom.

Eilert also didn’t spend any time talking about other violent crimes, gun control, troubles caused at youth hotspots or the abysmal reading levels of too many young children.

By contrast, all of those concerns were among the issues discussed in Kansas City Mayor Sly James’ State of the City on Monday at the Park Hill High School auditorium. At one point, James even emphasized the fact that the city had suffered 106 homicides in 2013.

Cue the stereotypes:

Johnson County is the land of milk and honey, while Kansas City is a troubled community just waiting for some kook with a gun to shoot it off outside the zoo.

Johnson County is the beacon of hope for businesses and families, while Kansas City is rotting from the core and a place to flee, not love.

Of course, the facts are much more complicated.

Kansas City is actually growing in population — including the once-languishing downtown — while the county continues its strong addition of residents.

Often thanks to large taxpayer subsidies, both the city and county are having success attracting new jobs. James and Eilert each riffed on the companies and workers added in the past year or so.

And both the city and county have done more with less in recent years, emphasizing that their employees are extra productive in serving residents.

These examples illustrate a point that Kansas Citians and Johnson Countians ought to realize: Both communities aren’t so different in key ways.

Add one more to the list — the importance of good K-12 education.

James said in his address: “...I know that education is our biggest economic development tool. Businesses want to settle in areas that have great schools. Our city boasts some wonderful, high performing schools, like this one. But some schools are struggling, and have struggled for decades.... This year you will see me engage in education unlike any mayor in our city’s history.”

We’ll see exactly what that means in the months ahead, and how the mayor wants to measure actual progress.

Eilert said in his speech: “Our school systems are the county’s crown jewels. Companies come here or are created here. Many remain here and expand here. Why? Because we have one of the most highly educated and highly dedicated workforces in the nation right here....”

Hats off to Johnson County, because public education really did help it become the economic powerhouse of Kansas and a magnet for jobs.

But James also was correct to emphasize this week — once again — that the long-troubled Kansas City Public Schools are far from the sole story people should know about public education in the city.

Districts such as Park Hill, Liberty, North Kansas City, Lee’s Summit, Raytown and several others provide high quality educations to tens of thousands of Kansas Citians. These school districts are crucial to attracting people to live in the city.

The mayor rightly wants to concentrate on boosting the core’s main district. But as Kansas City’s population continues to grow, especially north of the Missouri River, the people living there must continue investing in the school systems that can help woo residents and jobs.

Johnson County shows just how important public education can be to a community. James and many others have learned that lesson well, which should help them make strides in 2014 in making Kansas City a better place to live.

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